On a Summer afternoon in the early 2000’s my dad picked me up in Little Rock to take me on a vacation to the beach. My grandparents had recently bought a timeshare in an oceanfront condo in Orange Beach, Alabama and this was the first time that the whole family would be vacationing there together. We got a pretty late start, considering everyone else arrived at the beach on Thursday and we didn’t even get on the road until Friday afternoon. We had to wait until I finished Don Eddy’s basketball camp that I didn’t want to be at, before we could go. I’m not sure what my mom thought I could learn from a middle aged white guy with two first names about the game of basketball, but I spent eight hours a day for a full week listening to that clown and wound up not making the school basketball team a year later.
The sky darkened as we made our way to Orange Beach and I remember being at some gas station in middle of nowhere Mississippi and feeling very uneasy about the how dark the sky was in the middle of the afternoon. We continued driving through Mississippi and finally decided to stop for the night in Vicksburg. This was our first time going to the beach so we were young and naive, stupidly choosing a good night’s sleep over the possibility of an extra day waking up in paradise, a mistake we never made again. Before that night I didn’t know anything about the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, but because of my experience there, it is a place I will never forget. I think it was about 6:30 or 7 when we stopped and we immediately went to get something to eat at Western Sizzlin’, a buffet that let you eat as many helpings of mashed potatoes as your heart desired. I was in paradise. Once I’d eaten way too much we left the restaurant and hit the town, looking for something fun to occupy a couple hours before bed.
I would have opted to spend the evening at the movie theater or bowling alley, but as we cruised along the Vicksburg strip neither of those options presented themselves. Past funeral homes, churches, and dilapidated gas stations, we happened upon a mall, and since it looked to be the most viable option at that moment we decided we’d do a little shopping. This was no later than eight o’clock on a Friday night but as we drove through the dark parking lot we didn’t see any other cars. Apparently the mall was closed already, so realizing that the town was completely dead we went to the hotel to waste away our night watching TV. We stayed in a Super 8, but let me be as cheesy as possible when I tell you that there was nothing super about it.
One of my favorite things about staying in hotels is turning the air as cold as it gets, then getting under the warm covers and sleeping like a baby, but Vicksburg had other plans. The A/C didn’t work in our room and being that we were in Mississippi in the middle of the summer, it’s an understatement to say that it was uncomfortable. I don’t know that either of us got any substantial sleep that night as we tossed and turned, searching tirelessly for a cool spot on the pillow that would bring momentary, but sweet relief. I don’t know if it was because of the hotel’s weak water flow or maybe because of the large dinner we’d eaten, the toilet got clogged. If you were wondering what could make a hot hotel room any worse, the answer is a toilet full of feces that won’t flush, trust me. The hotel was very unaccommodating and wouldn’t send anyone to help rectify the situation so we closed the bathroom door and tried not to think about the horror within. After hours of hardly any sleep my dad asked if I was awake and upon confirmation we decided to go ahead and hit the road. It was still dark outside when we left Vicksburg, but we cranked up the music and the air and never looked back at that hell hole that held me captive during the summer of my eleventh year.